2016 Suzuki Boulevard S40 Review | Test Riding A Classic
There’s something very reassuring about testing the 2016 Suzuki Boulevard S40, with its reliance on what is starting to become Stone Age technology. It reminds us that riding motorcycles is fun, and the latest technological advances greatly enhance the experience, but are not essential to the basic mission of enjoying the ride.
The Suzuki Boulevard S40 got its start 30 years ago (Suzuki goofed by not issuing an anniversary edition) as the LS650 Savage. The only significant functional changes since 1986 have been the upgrade from a 4-speed to a 5-speed transmission in 1993, flatter bend bars, and the name change in 2005 from Savage to Boulevard S40.
The most obvious old-school technologies that remain include an air-cooled motor, Mikuni carburetor (and petcock), wire wheels, and a rear drum brake. Believe it or not, the S40 lacks active suspension and wheelie control, and that’s just the way I like it. I do wish it had a chain drive rather than a belt, but you can’t have everything, can you?
Cruisers speak to everyone in different ways, and I am most taken by the S40’s massive single-cylinder powerplant. The light-bulb shape reminds me of the Matchless G80 thumpers of the 1950s and ’60s. Yes, the Suzuki is a unit construction design and has an overhead cam, but the S40’s motor is close enough for me in 2016.
Sharing almost an identical stroke to the undersquare 498cc Matchless motor, the Suzuki is a perfect square design—94mm stroke and 94mm bore. It’s a good balance that creates the right kind of power for a bike that can be expected to be outstanding around town, yet still capable on the highway.
The Boulevard S40 does have electric starting, which I consider mandatory these days, and you will have to actuate the choke on the carb on cooler days. Warm-up in moderate temperatures isn’t unduly long, and in no time you’re out having a good ride.
Ergonomics on the Suzuki Boulevard S40 are definitely compact. I’m a hair under 5’ 10” and I felt cramped as soon as I got on the bike. On a bigger bike, forward pegs and drag bars can result in an instant backache. But, because the S40 is a small bike—the wheelbase is over an inch shorter than a Harley-Davidson Iron 883—the reach to the pegs and the bars isn’t that far. Actually, if the S40 had pullback bars and mid-mount pegs, it wouldn’t fit anyone over 5’ 6”, at best.
Having said that, even though it seems like a tight fit, once I settled in, I was able to run the S40’s 2.8-gallon tank from full to reserve (remember, it has a petcock and no low-fuel warning light) on a day-long citywide ride without taking a break. As time wore on, I did stand up from the 27.6-inch-high seat, stretching my legs, and giving my butt a break at stoplights, but I never fully dismounted. So, three or four hours straight in the saddle is a bit much of an ask. For an hour’s ride without a break, the Boulevard S40 fine.
With low weight—381 pounds, wet—plus a low center of gravity, the Boulevard S40 is highly functional as an urban bike. The narrow drag bars allow Californians to make use of its sensible lane-splitting tradition, and I did it regularly with great success in crowded metropolitan Los Angeles.
Acceleration of the Boulevard S40 is more than adequate in the city. You can pull away from automotive traffic easily, and lazy sport bike riders will often be shocked at how they get left in the rearview mirror, at least initially. Plenty of torque, not much weight, and a compact, low chassis is a great combination for in-town riding. Don’t overrev off the line—it doesn’t help.
When short freeway jaunts are needed, the S40 does a fine job. It will get up to 70 mph confidently, and acceleration feels good when making necessary passes of in-the-way motorists. The IRC Grand High Speed tires are not the most settled on the rain grooves of Los Angeles freeways, so that’s usually the restricting factor and why the S40 doesn’t make for a potential weekend tourer.
If the weekends take you to the canyons, the Boulevard S40 is willing, if not spectacularly able. The suspension has obvious limitations. Smoother roads are much more enjoyable than bumpy ones, and the S40 prefers sweepers over tight turns. Cornering clearance is generous, despite a low seat height, and the IRC tires are up to the reasonable task at hand.
Because of the raked out front end, tight turns—be they in the city or country—will cause the 19-inch front end to flop into the turn if you aren’t vigilant. If you are paying attention, though, you really can thread some tight needles.
It’s easy to underestimate the Boulevard S40. At $5499 for 2016, it’s an inexpensive motorcycle with some prehistoric technology—switchgear is straight from the 1900s, and the information on the tank-mounted speedometer is sparse (no tach present, or needed).
However, in many ways, that retro aspect is part of its appeal. The 2016 Suzuki Boulevard S40 is incredibly simple, yet fully capable of providing fun in a variety of locales, as well as being an outstandingly functional urban commuter or a way to make a quick run to Fatburger turn into an afternoon of riding.
Action photography by Kelly Callan
Static photography by Don Williams
2016 Suzuki Boulevard S40 Specs:
- Engine: SOHC single
- Bore x stroke: 94 x 94mm
- Displacement: 652cc
- Cooling: Air-cooled
- Fueling system: 40mm Mikuni BS carburetor
- Ignition: Transistorized electronic
- Lubrication: Wet sump |
- Transmission: 5-speed
- Final drive: Belt
- Brakes f/r: Disc/drum
- Suspension f/r: Forks/twin shocks
- Front tire: 100/90-19 tube-type; IRC Grand High Speed
- Rear tire: 140/80-15 tube-type: IRC Grand High Speed
- Wheels: Laced steel
- Overall length: 85.8 inches
- Overall width: 28.3 inches
- Wheelbase: 58.3 inches
- Seat height: 27.6 inches
- Ground clearance: 5.3 inches
- Curb weight: 381 pounds
- Fuel capacity: 2.8 gallons
- Warranty: 12-month, unlimited mileage, limited warranty
2016 Suzuki Boulevard S40 Colors:
- Metallic Triton Blue
- Pearl Glacier White
2016 Suzuki Boulevard S40 Price: